The reason the St. Louis Police Department was first placed
under state control in 1861 almost qualifies as an urban legend.
The federal arsenal, which supplied the Army of the West, would be
in jeopardy (so the story goes) if the Police Department remained
under local control during the Civil War. The small arms, artillery
and munitions would fall into the hands of the Confederacy. In
fact, there were three reasons the Police Department went under the
control of a Board of Police Commissioners appointed by the
governor: inefficiency, a new model of policing, and politics.
Only one of these was even remotely connected with the rebellion.
First, the Police Department of the 1850s was inefficient; some
even claimed it was corrupt. The mayor and other city officials
were elected for a one-year term. The mayor, in turn, appointed the
members of the police force; a new mayor brought new police
appointments. Much of the police force turned over every year. The
new officers knew little, if anything, about police work. There was
no formal training, and there were few veteran officers to provide
on-the-job training. The pay was poor.
Second, a new police model was inaugurated in London in 1829.
London Metropolitan Police officers were full-time, salaried,
uniformed officers who held their jobs as long as they provided no
cause for separation from the service. The key feature of the
London department, however, was control of the department. The
London Metropolitan Police force was headed by two civilian
commissioners appointed by the home secretary; there were no direct
links to elected officials. The department had selection procedures
and a modicum of training for officers.
In 1856, with the reorganization of city government, the St.
Louis Police Department took on the look and feel of the London
Metropolitan Police. The department was now headed by a chief of
police rather than a city marshal; it was full time, uniformed and
even had five detectives. Yet, there was still no training, and
there were still only one-year appointments. With the doubling of
population from 1850 to 1860 (which again doubled by 1870), and the
continuing expansion of the city limits, the Police Department
could simply not keep up.
Such problems were common in the large cities of the United
States, including New York. In 1857, that city took an additional
step toward emulating the London Metropolitan model, and it became
subject to the "metropolitan police bill. …